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This article was published on April 19, 2012

Study: Arabic mobile advertising is a market wide open for the taking

Study: Arabic mobile advertising is a market wide open for the taking
Nancy Messieh
Story by

Nancy Messieh

Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Fol Lesotho-born and raised, Nancy Messieh, The Next Web's Middle East Editor, is an Egyptian writer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. Follow her on Twitter, her site or Google+ or get in touch at [email protected]

According to a study on the mobile Internet consumption habits of Middle Eastern smartphone users, there’s an Arabic-speaking market ready and waiting for more localized mobile advertising.

Conducted by Plus7, the study polled over 4,000 smartphone users in the region, via their phones, giving insight into what Arab smartphone users are looking for when they’re on the go, what kind of apps and content they’re accessing and more.

The majority of smartphone users polled were in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, followed by UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, in descending order.

Consumers use smartphones to make informed purchases

Talking about one of the key findings of the survey, Ashwin Salian, co-founder and Director of Plus7, said:

“The study shows that consumers usually look for information on the mobile web via sites and applications before they make any product or service purchases. We believe that this is a key indicator of why consumer brands must reconsider the way they market their brands.”

Access to additional content on their smartphones is giving Middle Eastern shoppers the chance to make more informed decisions while they’re out and about, and clearly they are taking advantage of the option.

Other key findings from the study showed that consumers use mobile Internet for a variety of reasons – whether primarily to access news, social networks and email – as well as purchasing products.

When it comes to choosing between apps and mobile sites, mobile users in all countries preferred sites over apps, with the exception of the UAE alone, showing an almost equal split between the two.

These results can probably be explained by a lack of Arabic content online in general, so it’s safe to assume that there’s an even more severe lack of mobile apps in Arabic.

Uptake of mobile e-commerce is quite high

It is not surprising to find that Middle Eastern smartphone users still don’t have that much confidence in online payment systems, with respondents showing a preference for cash-on-delivery over using their credit cards.

That said there’s a significant percentage of respondents comfortable purchasing products on their phones:

  • 33% in UAE, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia
  • 25% in Oman
  • 40% in Bahrain

In the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, products tend to fall into one of three categories – Entertainment, Technology and Travel.

Speaking about the significance of the study, Sagar Shetty, co-founder and Director of Plus7, said:

“Although mobile advertising is still in its infancy in this region, this study demonstrates that the uptake of mobile internet and e-commerce is quite high. The adoption of smartphones, 3G networks and data plans provides a ripe environment for advertisers looking to reach consumers through a variety of platforms including mobile browsers and apps. As usage increases, mobile advertising will play a key role in the development of the mobile ecosystem.”

Smartphone users prefer ads in Arabic

Speaking to, Shetty gave a little bit more insight into how Middle East’s smartphone users are responding to mobile advertising. He said, “We’re seeing that Arabic creatives across the region are generating a higher click through rate. One of the reasons is that you don’t see as many ads in Arabic, so there’s a novelty factor. Some apps may display global ads which are just not relevant to me – the relevancy of an ad increases response rates.”

However, it is practically impossible to pin down a specific pattern in the Middle East – whether looking at various regions from the Gulf, to the Levant to North Africa, or even within countries in each of these regions.

In Saudi Arabia, 90% of the respondents showed a preference for Arabic ads, whereas the figure drops to 40% in the UAE.

Salian commented, “Obviously this is reflected in the make-up of the populations. UAE users favoured accessing news and information sources, followed by email and social networks, whereas Saudi users scored higher for search, with email scoring much lower.”